The first month of the NHL season has wrapped and, as usual, it contained its fair number of surprises.
Were the number of suspensions and blather surrounding them a surprise? Maybe. What teams surprised you – by either their good or poor play? In no particular order, here are five things that surprised me about the NHL in October.
1. Patrick Sharp has 10 goals – He’s the NHL’s leading goal scorer. Now, he’s no slouch. He’s working on his fifth consecutive 20-or-more goal season. But ten goals in October? That rates as a surprise. In Columbus, on October 15th, the 28-year old Winnipeg native had two goals and 13 shots (a Blackhawks’ all-time record). Can he keep up the pace? Not likely, but his exploits have helped the Hawks to a 7-6-1 record and top spot in the Central Division.
2. The Leafs strong start – It’s not so much their wins and losses, it’s how they’re playing the games. They began the season with four wins that were as up-tempo as any NHL games you will ever see. Goal scoring has been a struggle lately, as they’ve been consecutively shut out by the Bruins’ Tim Thomas and the Rangers’ Henrik Lundqvist. But Toronto’s five wins in ten games has them sitting ninth in the Eastern Conference. And, most importantly, their 23 goals against make them better than all but three teams in the league (Bruins, Panthers, Blues).
3. Fans chewing on Taylor’s Hall’s a** – Holy cow! The kid’s 18 years old and has just been thrown into the best hockey league in the world! Cut him a break. All the moronic talk about him needing to return to junior hockey in Windsor is, quite frankly, insane. Edmonton fans knew darned well this was going to be another tough year, points-wise. You want to take your frustration out on someone, try Andrew Cogliano or Dustin Penner. Hall has five points in nine games. That’s plenty for someone in his position, just breaking into the big show. Fans in Edmonton get to watch Hall, Jordan Eberle and Magnus Paajarvi all year. Quit your whining.
4. The Kings’ fast start – I think everyone agrees that the Kings are on the way up the ladder, but their 8-3-0 is the best in the league. And all this is happening with stud defenceman Drew Doughty on the shelf. Justin Williams, Anze Kopitar, Jarret Stoll, Jack Johnson and Dustin Brown are all scoring like crazy. And Ryan Smyth provides lots of veteran leadership. If they stay reasonably healthy, this could be the Year of the Kings.
5. Jaroslav Halak’s play in the Blues’ net – We all know what he did in last year’s Stanley Cup Playoffs for Montreal, but the Habs obviously felt that Carey Price was their future, so Halak was shipped to the shores of the Mississippi. In his first eight games, all he’s done is record back-to-back shutouts (v. PIT, @ NSH), rack up six wins and sit second in the league in save percentage. Pretty impressive numbers for the 25-year old native of Slovakia. Can he keep it up for the entire season? Don’t bet against it.
And, just for your files, here are a few things that do not qualify as surprises this NHL season: the Islanders still stinking, the Devils starting 3-9-1, the Calgary Flames beginning the in-fighting nice and early and Steven Stamkos lighting it up offensively.